Operation Cadence: A blockade with its own beat

The 1990s have been labeled the “sanctions decade,” but not all activities to monitor those sanctions were alike.

For the Canadian Forces, the deployment of military observers on the Dominican frontier under Operation Cadence – not to be confused with the American anti-drug trafficking operation of the same name and timeframe – had little in common with most international military observer missions.

The Military Observer Group Dominican Republic (MOGDR) was established in 1994 to monitor Dominican Republic enforcement of UN and OAS (Organization of American States) sanctions against the Haitian regime of General Raoul Cedras as part of a UN campaign intended to force the return of president Jean-Bertrand Aristide, ousted by a coup in 1991.

Although earlier sanctions imposed by the OAS against had failed, the UN embargoes on oil and arms outlined in Security Council Resolution (SCR) 841 forced the Haitian leaders, the targets of those sanctions, to accept a UN presence of police officers, military trainers and engineers.

The deployment of these assets, however, was blocked dockside in Port-au-Prince, in the infamous USS Harlan County episode. The embargo was reintroduced in SCR 873 and enforcement was tightened in SCR 875, which included deployment of Canadian warships. In addition, SCR 917 halted commercial flights to Haiti, put a hold on the Haitian junta funds aboard and imposed further import/export restrictions.

Both Haitian and Dominican Republic elites were benefiting from violations of the embargoes across their shared border. Allegations of fraud in the Dominican elections that May, plus statements by, among others, Canada’s foreign minister about the frontier “sieve” in the blockade, prompted newly re-elected Dominican President Joaquin Balaguer to agree to an American-led observer mission to monitor the border. He signed a memorandum of understanding permitting the formation of the MOGDR one day after the UN authorized the invasion of Haiti by the American-led Multinational Force (MNF) in SCR 940 on 1 August 1994.

The differences with past military observation missions were evident from the start. Catering to Balaguer’s wishes, MOGDR reported through an American naval chain of command to Atlantic Command, and then to the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff.

On 5 September 1994, before the deployment of MNF, two of the three Canadian MOGDR teams moved to their Area of Operations in the vicinity of the border crossing at JIMANI astride the newly built main highway connecting the Dominican Republic with Haiti. These Canadian elements of MOGDR were declared operational on 10 September.

The teams operated under different procedures than most military observers (milobs). First, the Canadians were all together. On most such missions, teams and patrols were made up of observers/monitors from different nations to theoretically ensure an unbiased report. Second, unlike UN missions on which milobs were required to be officers, NCOs were used as observers/monitors. Third, unlike most monitoring missions, the members of MOGDR were armed. Fourth, local authorities, in this case the Dominican Republic army, provided the vehicles for ground transportation (this also happened on the UNGOMAP mission in Afghanistan/Pakistan). Finally, as was later to be the case in a UN observer mission in Guatemala, the ability to speak Spanish was a criterion for serving.

The short life of MOGDR was also distinct. The order to withdraw came on 17 September 1994, two days before the MNF deployed several divisions into Haiti. This direction came through the American chain of command. Indeed, there is no evidence that any reports from MOGDR reached either the UN’s Sanctions Committee or the OAS Embargo Committee. The Canadians in MOGDR were back in the Dominican capital on 18 September. Sanctions were suspended with the restoration of Aristide and the departure of Cedras.

Canadians were deployed on ten different missions to Haiti during the “sanctions decade.” On one of these, Operation Heritage, milobs from Canada monitored the election that brought Aristide to power. Now civilians monitor elections on behalf of Canada, in most cases organized under auspices of CANADEM. Perhaps if the land gap(s) of any blockade are to be monitored in the future, such as was the task under Operation Cadence, the Canadian Border Agency or CANADEM will organize the deployment of Canadian Customs personnel, serving, or retired, for the next such mission.

Regardless, Operation Cadence will remain an example of Canadian milobs participation on a mission that was anything but in cadence with normal practice.

Roy Thomas, MSC, CD, MA (RMC) has served on multiple UN missions.


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